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What Makes a Strategic CFO?

Here are 5 questions to help you find out

The Strategic CFO is someone who challenges the status quo—someone who thinks beyond typical practice and uses their role as a lever for change in school districts. As part of our new tool, The Strategic CFO: A Guide for School Districts, we collaborated with The Broad Center to develop questions to help district teams reflect on the qualities of a Strategic CFO and begin to transform their financial leadership strategies. Here’s a sneak peek.

What opportunities do the board and community have to engage in the development of the long-term financial plan?

During the financial planning process, stakeholders outside of the finance team often have limited insight into the root causes of the final financial picture, making collaboration and buy-in a challenge. A Strategic CFO provides transparency around challenges and assumptions so that stakeholders are able to feel a sense of ownership over the process.

Does the current strategic plan include an explicit goal of effective resource management?

Strategic plans that focus solely on academic outcomes can make it harder for finance and operations staff to see themselves as key players in the district’s progress. A Strategic CFO collaborates with their district team to include explicit goals around resource management that ensure all students have the tools they need to succeed.

During budget development, do your district’s school staff, department heads, and community members have opportunities to grapple with potential spending tradeoffs and provide input?

When developing a budget, wide-ranging input can give finance leaders  valuable insights into different stakeholders’ priorities — but the annual district budgeting process is often handled solely by district leaders, the finance team, and the school board. A Strategic CFO improves transparency and engagement by using community meetings, focus groups, and surveys to include school staff, parents, and advocates in the decision-making process.

Is the school planning process integrated from needs assessment, priority setting, and strategy development to resource allocation via budgeting, staffing, and scheduling?

When the budgeting process happens independently from school planning milestones, principals may be forced to make a schedule before they have certainty on the following year’s staffing levels. Under a Strategic CFO, budgeting, hiring, and scheduling conversations are cohesive, allowing principals to continually adjust as they develop their school designs.

In the past, has the finance team contributed data analysis to help your district make the financial argument for desired contract changes?

The district’s communications team and superintendent often lead external communication of the budgeting process, with the finance team behind the scenes. To help the district build stakeholder buy-in, a Strategic CFO communicates the benefits and tradeoffs of the current contract versus alternative options. 

To read more of the questions that can help your district shift from typical practice to Strategic CFO practice, check out the full guide.


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